Jean-Leon Gerome (May 11, 1824 - January 10, 1904) was a French painter and sculptor in the style now known as Academicism. The range of his oeuvre included historical painting, Greek mythology, Orientalism, portraits and other subjects, bringing the Academic painting tradition to an artistic climax.
Gérome’s father, a goldsmith from Vésoul, discouraged his son from studying to become a painter but agreed, reluctantly, to allow him a trial period in the studio of Paul Delaroche in Paris. Gérôme proved his worth, remaining with Delaroche from 1840 to 1843. When Delaroche closed the studio in 1843, Gérôme followed his master to Italy.
Pompeii meant more to him than Florence or the Vatican, but the world of nature, which he studied constantly in Italy, meant more to him than all three. An attack of fever brought him back to Paris in 1844. He then studied, briefly, with Charles Gleyre, who had taken over the pupils of Delaroche. Gérôme attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and entered the Prix de Rome competition as a way of going back to Italy. In 1846 he failed to qualify for the final stage because of his inadequate ability in figure drawing.
To improve his chances in the following year’s competition, he painted an academic exercise of two large figures, a nude youth, crouching in the pose of Chaudet’s marble Eros (1817; Paris, Louvre), and a lightly draped young girl whose graceful mannerism recalls the work of Gérôme’s colleagues from the studio of Delaroche. Gérôme added two fighting cocks (he was very fond of animals) and a blue landscape reminiscent of the Bay of Naples.
Delaroche encouraged Gérôme to send The Cockfight (1846; Paris, Louvre) to the Salon of 1847, where it was discovered by the critic Théophile Thoré (but too late to buy it) and made famous by Théophile Gautier. The picture pleased because it dealt with a theme from Classical antiquity in a manner that owed nothing to the unfashionable mannerisms of David’s pupils. Moreover, it placed Gérôme at the head of the NÉO-GREC movement, which consisted largely of fellow pupils of Gleyre, such as Henri-Pierre Picou (1824–95) and Jean-Louis Hamon.